Young married couples these days, and in particular the male half, are more likely to wear wedding rings to proclaim their commitment than in previous generations, but one in five coupled men and women admit to taking off their rings on occasion according to a report this week.
But what’s interesting, I think, about the research by the law firm Slater & Gordon are the differences it highlights in the behaviour of men and women. For instance, men were more likely to remove their rings before going out socializing – which instantly rings alarm bells about potential infidelity, or at least that they’re leaving themselves open to possibilities. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to take their ring off after a row with their spouse, which strikes me as a statement of discontent or a warning, a signal to her partner rather than to the outside world.
While women for centuries have had to wear wedding rings to demonstrate they’re spoken for, men’s use of them only really began in the middle of the 20th century and has been increasing since then, a trend which I think might come down partly to changing gender roles. I don’t imagine women in times gone by were any less interested in fidelity and commitment from their partners than we are now, but perhaps women nowadays wield more power in relationships and can make demands for equality in these signals, given that they’re less likely to be so financially dependent on men.
In contrast, traditionally women have demanded a big signal of commitment before getting married – a bloke has been expected to fork out a huge sum to show his undying love with an engagement ring, when in fact he might have preferred to use the money to buy a small car. Such a big demand makes sense though given the huge potential cost to women of being abandoned after being impregnated. As the song says, diamonds are a girl’s best friend. But again, as women become better able to absorb the financial costs of raising a family themselves, the demand for huge prenuptial gifts seems likely to decline, in some parts of society anyway.
It’s still the case though that the wearing of a wedding ring by your spouse is thought by many to give reassurance that they won’t stray into someone else’s bed – the ring supposedly reminds them and others of their commitment. But don’t be so sure. When a man wears a wedding ring it seems to be seen a challenge, not a put-off, for other women. Men in the survey reported that other women were more likely to flirt with them while they had their ring on.
Why so? It comes down to the phenomenon known as mate copying: women have more to lose from picking the wrong partner so an evolved part of the psyche of the average woman is to pay close attention to whether or not a man is favoured by others, as there are important manly qualities that can’t be assessed by the naked eye. An already partnered man thus becomes especially attractive, particularly if his existing female partner is hot (since a hot woman isn’t going to choose a loser). If a woman thinks she has a chance of poaching such a man she might be tempted to go for it. Men who become single, on the other hand, tend to report less female interest.
That relationship is reversed when it comes to married women and those displaying wedding rings get less attention from men, not more. Yep, signals of being “spoken for” are not a turn-on for men. Given that a man tends to notice physical attractiveness first in a woman, he doesn’t need the presence of another guy to tell him who’s worth a try – in fact having another bloke around is just going to create problems. In the short term at least, signals of sexual availability are what’s attractive for men, so if you don’t want to be pestered by guys, keep that wedding ring on.